Originally when I decided to book a round trip flight in and out of Ho Chi Minh City, I imagined weeks of traveling around Vietnam. Sailing through Ha Long Bay, seeing waterfalls in Da Lat, and enjoying the beaches of Nha Trang. But then everyone was like, “Oh no, don’t go to the North! It’s freezing there right now”. So that put a damper on plans, after hearing it quite a few more times. I still kind of regret not ignoring these people, but I know I’ll be back one day when the sun is shining over Ha Long Bay. This will definitely happen because there’s so many more countries for me to explore in Asia.
The next closest country that I could easily travel to was Cambodia. So that was the obvious choice. Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, cool little islands, and capital cities filled with monkeys. So, after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, what most people still call Saigon, I caught a flight to Siem Reap. The flight was with Cambodia Angkor Air and the flight attendants were about 6’0, blonde, and cute. Do they not trust Cambodians to run their own airline? I don’t know. The alternate route was a 10 hour plus bus ride, and as I was on a short trip, I did not take this option.
After a long sleep, checking out the Ben Thanh Market, and recovering from a bit of sickness that I had before I began the trip, the next day began with zip lining. I had never zip lined before, so I had no idea what to expect. I had barely even stood up for more than an hour over the past couple days, and also had eaten practically nothing besides a few bites of fruit. Not to mention on top of all of this I was dealing with a 16 hour time difference. My tolerance at this point was pretty low, and it was topped off with 35 degree heat and multiple flights of stairs. Despite it all, zip lining was amazing! I booked through “Flight of the Gibbon.” The tour guides were hilarious, and demonstrated everything thoroughly. I felt very safe. There were 5 zip lines total, and a couple of suspension bridges. After the zip lining they gave us a tour around the area, pointing out tarantula holes, and even where you could find cobras!
The next couple of hours were spent exploring Angkor Wat. The zip lining was actually in the park, so you had to pay to get a park pass before zip lining. So seeing as I was already in the park, I took some time to check out the temples. This was unfortunately the busiest part of the day, plus it was extremely hot.
I saw a lot of people riding elephants, and it was hard for me to watch. I don’t know how people can think it’s okay to ride elephants in 35-40 degree heat, or any weather really. Check out the video at the bottom of the post to see why! I won’t write too much on the temples, as it wasn’t the only thing I did. Also my pictures are awful. The sun or the glare ruined almost every picture I took there. I was definitely happy I went to see the temples, and they were amazing. I was at the Tulum ruins in 2015, and I found them equally beautiful, if not more so, as the ocean was the backdrop. I know Angkor Wat is the largest religious site in the world, so don’t hate me for liking Tulum just as much, but check out that view!
Another thing that backpackers like to do is make you feel like an awful backpacker when you don’t do something they are. If you don’t participate in every single activity that you’re “supposed to” see, then you aren’t having the best travel experience you could be. Says who? When I was traveling solo through Central America, there were MANY opportunities to see ruins. I visited the Tulum ruins in my first week of that trip. I knew that I would be satisfied if I didn’t see any more ruins. I was traveling on a tight budget, and that wasn’t my number one priority. Well let me tell you, the amount of grief I got for not visiting Chichen Itza or Tikal?! A lot of grief. But that is never something I have looked back and second guessed, as it wasn’t a priority then or now. Do you know what I do regret though? Not thinking I was in shape enough to climb Volcan Acetenango, and I know I have to go back one day and do it. Yet nobody pressured me to do that one! When I travel I do the things that I want to do, not what the guidebook tells me I MUST. And to be honest, temples kind of all start to look the same. Just like churches in Europe, sorry but not really.
Sorry I kind of went off on a tangent there. The next day I returned and saw Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. I think that this all could have been done in one day if it were better planned. They just raised the park prices on the 1st of February (to almost double what it was before!), and I think it is a lot of money for a backpacker’s budget. Hire a tuk tuk to drive you, and you will be able to see everything in the same day as long as you take food and water breaks. But don’t get me wrong, you can also spend many many days exploring if that’s your style. There are also many temples that require hours to reach, but you’ll likely be one of very few tourists there.
Other than the temples, the actual town of Siem Reap has a great backpacker vibe. There are many markets and Pub Street is filled with restaurants, entertainment and beggars (who probably actually make a lot of money doing so). There was multiple stands that sold fried bugs, ranging from tarantulas to scorpions. The signs above the stands read, “Free, $0.50 to take a picture!” You can find a coconut like the one above for $0.50, which is the same price as draft beer. It would be hard to find a meal costing more than $4, but most often you are paying around $2. So obviously the prices are extremely affordable. This was a great place to sit back and people watch, which I love to do!
As a vegetarian, I was a bit worried about finding food to eat. I didn’t have a problem when I backpacked in Central America or in Europe, but trying to communicate in Spanish is a bit easier than Cambodian or Vietnamese. I found that a majority of the time I was stuck with pizza, but it was usually possible to find pad thai. These options were fine but got tiresome, plus cheese makes my tummy hurt. This was oddly the case in both Cambodia and Vietnam, I’m not sure where the love of pizza comes from. Breakfast was never a problem, as there was always banana or mango pancakes, or muesli with fruit. As with my experience in Central America, I found that the coffee was generally bad. It had a thick, syrupy, almost chocolate taste to it. I found myself drinking very little coffee compared to when I was at home. This actually had a more positive effect on me, because when I did drink the coffee, it actually did give me an energy boost!
I spent a total of 3 nights in Siem Reap, but if I were to do it again I would stay longer. I recommend Onederz Hostel, as it has an amazing rooftop pool. I really enjoyed Cambodia. It had great scenery, amazing sunsets, friendly people, and a lot of different sights to see, from temples to beautiful beaches. Yes, it was 100% safe as well. I feel like every time I travel somewhere I am asked whether it is safe and clean, and then the rest of the questions follow. The only place that wasn’t either of these was Koh Rong. It was completely safe, but the beach was a bit trashy. You could see dog poop and garbage littered everywhere, and it didn’t make you want to go swimming there or lay out at all.
Have you ever been to any temples? Is Angkor Wat on your list? My next post will be about the islands of Phu Quoc and Koh Rong. Two beautiful islands, with completely different vibes!
Also I am looking into getting a camera. I’m looking at something like a mirrorless camera by Canon or Sony, but I have no idea what I’m looking for. Comment below if you recommend any!
The elephant tourism link:
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